The Healey administration said it expects to start implementing a waitlist in the state-funded family shelter system within the next two days, a move advocates warn could leave families in dangerous situations.
Last month, Healey said the state would end its guarantee to house families that qualify for the system once it reached 7,500 families. In anticipation of hitting that cap on Wednesday or Thursday, Lieutenant General Leon Scott Rice announced he'll activate more National Guard members — bumping the current 300 up to 375 — to help with the system's needs.
Rice also said the state is partnering with United Way to provide $5 million to create short-term overnight accommodations for homeless families with nowhere else to go. Once the grant application for the funds goes live later this week, Rice said he hopes social service organizations will apply. He said federal dollars are funding this effort.
Bob Giannino, president and CEO of United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley said it's unclear how many families the funds will support, but he's confident it will allow some families to stay in hotels, motels or other locations and help alleviate pressure on the state system "into the beginning of the winter."
Further, Rice said, the state-run family welcome centers will continue to support parents and children placed on the waitlist. He said the two centers will host evening and weekend events, including dental health screenings and religious services.
Advocates for unhoused families say waitlisted homeless families may be forced to stay in unsafe places, such as sleeping in cars, hospital lobbies, terminals at Logan Airport or returning to abusers. When asked about this issue, Rice said he is "hoping" that community groups and nonprofits will offer support.
"What I'm thinking, and I'm hoping, and I'm looking towards is we have positive indication that we have a lot of community partners that will help us with this," he said.
Over the summer, Gov. Maura Healey announced a state of emergency in the shelter system and, in mid-October, she said the program was nearing capacity.
Within the past year, the population in the shelter system has grown dramatically, surpassing all previous records.
The state has scrambled to accommodate the growing caseload, including renting more than 3,700 hotels and motels and deploying Guard members to coordinate family needs at unstaffed hotels and motels.
In the state budget passed last summer, lawmakers allocated a record $325 million to the family shelter system. Lawmakers are currently considering an additional $250 million.